Friday, April 16, 2010

Food Glorious Food!

I don’t care what anyone says, the Chinese food outside of New England is just not as good as the kind I grew up with in Boston. Lobster sauce is supposed to be brown, not white. And nowhere else have I found the greatness of those gingery chicken wings.

I feel incomplete if I travel to visit family in Boston and I don’t have a chance to get some great Chinese food. The phone number to my favorite Boston area Chinese restaurant is programmed in my cell phone. Sometimes, I want to freeze a supply and bring it home with me.

I’m not alone in this food withdrawal. Gone are the days when people lived their whole lives in the same city, so it’s not unusual to get used to certain food favorites, only to discover you can’t find them when you move for school or career opportunities.

Tales of Two Cities

Linda Reynolds, in her words, “move[d] from the rust belt and bread basket of the Detroit, Michigan area to the bible belt and fryer basket of Nashville, TN!” Like me, Ms. Reynolds has experienced that longing for the tastes of home. Having lived in Royal Oak, Michigan for over 20 years she had quite a while to get used to the local specialty supermarkets like the Royal Oak Farmers Market. “I am a gourmet cook by avocation and couldn’t believe all the things that I am totally unable to find here in TN. I actually brought back over 30 jars and packets of spices from Penzeys spices in my carry-on luggage at Christmas time. Fortunately, the agent searching my bags knew Penzeys and understood totally why I was ‘smuggling’ 30 jars of good spices back to Tennessee!”

Livia King Blackburne grew up in New Mexico, but now lives in my hometown of Boston. As much as I miss the seafood and Chinese food of Boston, she is obsessed – her words, not mine – with getting good green chilis. Ms. Blackburne, a graduate student at MIT and blogger says, “Whenever I’ve met a fellow New Mexican in New England, green chili comes up within 5 minutes. It’s almost a secret pass phrase to prove your origins. If someone claims to be from NM but doesn’t automatically perk up when the pepper’s mentioned, be very, very suspicious.”

Natalie Fontane, creator of Scrivener's Retreat, is a transplant from perhaps one of the foodiest of food Mecca’s, -- Louisiana...New Iberia to be exact -- and now finds herself in North Las Vegas, NV. For those who don’t know, one of New Iberia’s claims to fame is that it is the location of a Tabasco processing plant. Living as she says “a stone’s throw” from Tabasco, you know she is not a connoisseur of bland food. “When I go back home for a visit one of the things we always have to do is [get] Cajun food.” She doesn’t leave Louisiana without having a few of her favorite foods that she can't cook for herself, such as fried catfish, boudin, shrimp po-boys and boiled crawfish, if it is in season.

Not only does Ms. Fontane try to get her fill of her local favorites when she visits LA, when her mom visits her in Nevada, she brings Ms. Fontane various provisions, like Zapp's potato chips. “The chips get smashed on the plane, but it's worth it.” And on a recent visit, her mom brought her six cans of Trappey's black-eyed peas.”

Another transplant to the Las Vegas area, Danielle Liss of the Frugal Lawyer has strong feelings about their cheese steaks. “I spent my first 30 years in the Philadelphia region. Las Vegas claims to have cheese steaks....Lies! I miss Wawa in ways that I can’t fully describe,” states Ms. Liss. “When I am home to visit family, there is a Wawa shorti on the menu every day. When friends come out to Vegas, I typically request that they bring me peanut chews and family members have shipped various flavors of Herrs potato chips to me.”

Our cravings may not always make sense to those on the outside looking in. To some, Maria Liberati may be living the charmed life for any foodie -- splitting her time between Philadelphia and Italy. However, whenever she is in one place, she longs for the food of the other. When asked about transporting food from one place to the other, you’d think she’d talk more about the foods of Italy, but no; most of the culinary transferring is from Philadelphia to Italy. “The Philly soft pretzels, Landis peanut butter made in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and apple butter [are] all things that one cannot get in Italy. The apple butter and Landis peanut butter are my passion and I always have a spot for a small supply in my suitcase especially when I am gone for 8 weeks,” says Ms. Liberati.

Even more amazing, Ms. Liberati has her family and friends in Italy hooked on some of the Philly delicacies. “I am not welcome back home in Italy if I arrive without a dozen or so Philly soft pretzels. I’ve gotten some of the locals in my town not to mention my fiancé and family members hooked on them.”

Celebrity Event Designer and Television Personality Samantha Goldberg may be a native of Chicago, but she knows the hunger pains of an east coast favorite -- Tastykake Krimpets -- through her husband, a mainline Philadelphia native. Of their time Tastykake deprived, Ms. Goldberg says, “In the Midwest we were used to Dolly Madison Zingers, an equivalent to Krimpets, but not the same. I could not find them anywhere. And not one grocery store from the East (NJ/NY/PA) would send me a box. I wrote a letter to the folks at Tastykake telling them how I wanted to surprise this wonderful man with a treat from home. They were so thrilled by my story they sent me a box. They also soon after developed a relationship with Dominicks, a grocery chain in Illinois. Soon we had Krimpets galore!!! Now we are living in NJ and have no issues with finding them!”

Nancy Dekalb -- of Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Public Relations, Inc in Nashville -- is continuing her love affair with Sanders Milk Chocolate “Hot” Fudge Sauce from Detroit, Michigan and has hooked her kids on Sanders too. “That’s what I request from any relatives in Michigan, or anyone traveling to the area. I grew up in Illinois, but I have fond memories of visiting my Grandma Harris in Detroit during the summers. We rode the bus downtown to Hudson’s department store and ate hot fudge sundaes at the soda fountain in the store,” says Ms. Dekalb.

And you don’t have to be half way across the country to miss your favorite foods. Nisha Ray, a Certified Christian Life & Biz Coach, only moved an hour away, from Elizabeth, New Jersey to South Jersey; but her favorite spot -- Tom and Jerry's -- was too far away. Her regular order: an Italian hotdog with potatoes, onions and peppers on an Italian roll with ketchup. “When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I had such a craving for an Italian hotdog that I got dressed at eight o'clock at night told my roommates I was going to get something to eat and hit the turnpike to get there before they closed. It was raining and I was 8 months pregnant and did not care. All I know was I wanted this hot dog. By 10 my roommates were calling my cell looking for me and I was sitting in my car outside of Tom & Jerry's devouring this Italian hot dog with tons of potatoes, onions and peppers with a cup of potatoes!!”

College Care Packages
One of the first opportunities we have to experience our special food withdrawal is during our college years, but care packages lessen the pain. Care packages were like getting a little love from home in a box. John Wetmore of Perils for Pedestrians has memories of one college experience where he helped relieve a mother’s worries. “A friend of mine who was originally from Taiwan was studying in The Netherlands for the summer. His mother was concerned that he wouldn't be able to find good Chinese food. When I went to visit my friend, his mother had me bring a knapsack full of canned and boxed food from her local Chinese grocery,” said Mr. Wetmore.

For Executive Account Manager, Megan Palmer, her college years’ food angst can be summed up in one word…UTZ. “I grew up in Maryland. In grade school they sold UTZ Crab Chips, you know the ones, flavored with Old Bay.” Ms. Palmer attended college in Providence, and “would get a hankering for Old Bay and Crab Chips” but could never find them. Mom to the rescue! She would send Ms. Palmer care packages with Crab Chips and they “would make her semester!” Now living in Miami she’s in withdrawal again and has to be satisfied with stocking up when she goes to Maryland for visits.

Jessica Schmidt-Bonifant, a Development Director also grew up in Maryland. She remembers longing for home-state delicacies when she went to college in Kentucky. “My mom would routinely send me care packages with all the Maryland food necessities, Old Bay, Berger Cookies, if she could have shipped me steamed crabs she would have,” says Ms. Schmidt-Bonifant.

Food Express

The good news is, more and more companies and restaurants have realized the benefits of having some of their customer favorites available for delivery across the country. David Ruiz of Alfonso Gourmet Pasta Inc in Pompano Beach, FL says his “company has experienced continued business for years from customers that used to live in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area and used to purchase pasta products directly from [their facility].” Says Mr. Ruiz, “[Customers] have moved from the area and now buy from us via the internet. We ship to their new homes.”

Dana Marlowe, a Principal Partner of Accessibility Partners, LLC lives in Maryland now, but still has a taste for flavors from Texas. “We regularly ship Texas BBQ from the Salt Lick BBQ to our home. As a matter of fact, we FedExed 100 lbs of BBQ assorted meat into town for our rehearsal dinner several years ago. Any time the Pittsburgh Steelers make it to the Super Bowl, we ship in a 5 LB brisket and sauce. We have celebrated many an anniversary dinner over Salt Lick BBQ that got mailed to our front door,” says Ms. Marlowe.

So what if your regional favorite doesn’t have an internet presence or you can’t wait until you go for a visit? For any true foodie, you won't let that stop you. If you need a mentor on how to get what you crave to your front door, then maybe you need a friend like Debra Fink Bachelder of Binding Arts. Born in New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn and Long Island, she now calls Mt Gilead, Ohio home. When she couldn’t find Passover food, she got mail-order candy from “For a friend on a transplant waiting list I had H&H bagels send bagels, cream cheese and lox. I drive an hour to Columbus for some ingredients. That took a few years before they were available, so I had to mail order from Zabars," says Ms. Fink Bachelder.

Kara L.C. Jones, Coach & heARTist at MotherHenna, grew up in Pittsburgh, PA with great Italian food. “The women at the church made periogi and I was able to get fresh cannoli any time I wanted from Sunseri Bros. down in the Strip District. And then in 1995, I moved out west to the Seattle area. I can't tell you how much I miss the food of the 'Burgh! A good friend once FedEx me cannoli! I've had other friends offer to FedEx periogi.”

Food Memories, or Just Memories?

No matter what the food stuff or whether it’s a part of your childhood, your college years or a recent discovery, there is one thing that is universal, part of the allure and nostalgia is not the food itself, but the memories associated with it.

For Tory Klaubo Patrick -- an Account Manager at Vantage Communications living in Washington, DC -- a Marvin's garlic cheeseburger in her college town of Greencastle, Indiana sends her back to memories of friends and good times. “One taste of a Marvin's GCB (garlic cheeseburger) and you were hooked for the next four years! I now live in Washington, DC and there are nights we get together with friends and say, ‘Mmmm, wouldn't a GCB taste good right about now?’ Then we go on to discuss the rest of the menu, and the fun times we had in college. But it all starts with the longing for a GCB,” says Ms. Patrick. “For me, I don't know if it's the actual GCB itself that I long for or just the college days. Either way, Marvin's is a part of my history.”


  1. Yay for Boston Chinese food! Have you tried Gourmet Dumpling House? There are a few places with better Chinese food than Boston. New York City and California comes to mind. And Vancouver might just have the best chinese food in the world, including Asia.

  2. Great article! Now, to forward this to someone back east and wait for a pity package.

  3. high school I worked at the then NE Medical Center right on the edge of Chinatown. Aaaahh memories. Have you seen the great TED video about Chinese food across the world?

  4. And it never ends...a trip to the grocery store with my mother-in-law reminds me that I can never find New England style hot dog buns!!! If you can't put butter on the side of and grill the buns with the hot dog, why bother!